Within the silo of a school or classroom, it’s difficult to find time for meaningful conversations about what works and why.
But by reaching beyond school walls and connecting with colleagues from around the globe, many educators have discovered vibrant learning communities in which teachers and leaders share ideas and propel each other to grow. Whether it's sharing lesson plans, setting up global collaborations or just commiserating about challenging circumstances, connecting to other educators pays big dividends.
Still, getting connected isn’t always easy. We asked the ISTE community to offer tips on how to connect with colleagues outside your school community to form an invaluable professional learning network. Here's what they said:
1. Dedicate time for networking.
Networking may sound intimidating, but it doesn’t have to be. Half the battle is simply setting aside time to initiate conversations, whether online or in person.
“Find a way to regularly get together with excellent educators to fine-tune your practice,” said Flip Your Classroom co-author Jon Bergmann. “Don’t have an agenda, but just talk about good practices.”
2. Participate in ed chats.
Educators get together on Twitter at regular times to talk about the subjects that ignite them. Throughout the week, dozens of education-related chats on topics ranging from 1:1 to flipped learning present opportunities to build relationships.
“You can build a great PLN and connect with like-minded educators by following the Twitter hashtags that most interest you in terms of grade level, subject area or topic,” said education consultant and author Jerry Blumengarten.
3. Join a network.
If handpicking your personal network seems too time consuming, you can join a ready-made group, such as ISTE Connect. Join conversations based on specific topics or areas of interest, such as online learning, digital citizenship, global collaboration or equity. Many of these groups provide year-round professional learning as well as opportunities for leadership and collaboration.
4. Attend conferences and edcamps.
Events like ISTELive and Creative Constructor Lab provide an opportunity for face-to-face collaboration and can deepen your connection to your PLN. Many educators with online networks relish the chance to meet their distant colleagues in person.
“By taking part in conferences such as ISTE, American Library Association, November Learning BLC Conference, School Library Journal Summit and edcamps, I have strengthened and deepened the relationships that started online with my educator friends and colleagues,” said school librarian Shannon Miller. “These relationships have brought so many amazing things back to my students and school community, including collaborative projects, connected classrooms and exchanges between our students.”
5. Share your ideas.
True connection is a two-way street. Sharing content online — rather than merely consuming it — can help you find like-minded colleagues to collaborate with.
“One way I find educators to connect with is to create a survey on a hot topic that I am interested in, spread the word through my social media channels, and tell the respondents that I will share the collected data with them,” said educational technologist Kathy Schrock. “I often find some creative new item or idea, and I can contact that person and connect for more information.”
Writing your own blog is another way to initiate conversations online, said Science Leadership Academy founding principal Chris Lehmann.
“Blogging is still really important,” Lehmann said. “People are still reading, and the voices of educators are more important than ever.”
6. Ask a connected educator for help.
“If you are unsure about how to connect with others online, find somebody else who has and learn how they connect,” Bergmann said.
Jerry Fingal is an Oregon-based blogger who writes about how technology impacts teaching and learning.